My Scottish grandfather liked gadgets. Around 1935 he built a television set to pick up Baird's daily 10.00 - 10.30 am test transmissions from Alexandra Palace. It was only supposed to be possible to pick these up within 80 miles of London, and my grandfather's success in picking them up in Ayrshire interested Baird enough for him to visit and discuss it. The set comprised an aluminium disc with tiny square holes around the edge, each a tad nearer the centre than its predecessor. In one revolution of the disc the holes scanned the width of a (selenium?) cell which could vary in brightness very rapidly. In front of the disc was a magnifying glass through which the pictures could be viewed.
At five to ten a picture of a five bar gate was transmitted, for tuning. The spinning disc was mounted on an electric motor with a variable speed control, and at the correct RPM the gate would appear - usually in two pieces until it was fine-tuned.
Hung above a door in the hall of my grandfather's house, amongst the weapons and oars (Uncle Alastair was a Boat Race and Olympic oarsman), was another device that appealed to him; an Aeolian Harp.
Aeolian harps were popular in Georgian times. They were placed in open sash-windows, where the wind could play over them. For over seventy years this one was strung cosmetically with silk fly-fishing line because my grandfather feared that any tensioning of the strings would place too much strain on the supporting posts.
When it was eventually passed to me I noticed two holes in the carved, porpoise-shaped posts, as if something was missing. These allowed me to rig up a spring-loaded copper bar to compensate for any strain, without having to physically adapt the instrument. After some research (there are several schools of thought about how to tune aeolian harps) I strung it with twenty guitar 'E' strings, all tuned to the same pitch. We opened the front and back doors and held the thing in the ensuing draught with a microphone nearby. And, hauntingly, perhaps for the first time in 170 years, the harp began to play. It felt as if we were hearing a recording made around the time of Waterloo, an echo from the past.
I found the tape this week and digitised it. You should be able to hear a bit by clicking the title of this post.